How to avoid having your Creative License revoked.

In the EDM group, a member recently posted the following:

” … I recently read, I forgot where, that gimmicky [drawing] methods, e.g. left hand work, blind contours, upside down, etc, is a not legitimate way to produce a finished, repeat finished, work. Meaning, I can understand
It is a great practice skill sharpener. And yet I would probably be willing to agree that unusual limiting techniques are a bit gimmicky for finished art. But yet, some of the great pieces of history appear exactly as though one were altering his or her usual perceptions and ability. So how do you do produce unusual art? Without gimmicks?”
–Michael, Boston, MA

To which I responded:

Dear Michael:

I believe that you are referring to the Artists and Illustrators Code that was recently revised in the MCLXII International Convocation of the Art and Creativity Authority (CACA) held in The Hague last November.
In Section 73B, article 14, it clearly states:
“…gimmicky methods, e.g. left hand work, blind contours, upside down, etc, is a not legitimate way to produce a finished, repeat finished, work…”
It goes on to stipulate:
“All drawings must be made in spiral bound books clearly labeled on the cover as “Drawing paper”. They may be made only with a lead pencil, not to exceed 3H, and erasures must be neatly and completely done.”
“Any person or persons working with art materials must work only with in the domains of their licensed class:
To wit:
Doodlers: may only draw with ballpoint pen on lined paper intended for class or meeting notes.
Incompetents: may not draw anything ever.
Sunday painter: may only work within the confines of authorized painting and drawing classes in a local junior college, community center or otherwise sanctioned facility and overseen by a bad-tempered and inattentive disillusioned Class 3 watercolorist.
Art School Graduate: Must have completed certificate and must then have spent a minimum of five years working in an art-unrelated field: video store, coffee shop, falafel stand, ad agency. Many not produce any art of any consequence ever again.
Genius: Must be represented by a major gallery, have been on the cover of Art Forum at least twice, and been interviewed by Morley Safer at least once. Must acknowledge and yet in some cute and non-threatening way challenge the current Art establishment. All works must sell for a minimum of five figures.

All works not adhering to these regulations may not be sold, framed or enjoyed in any way under penalty of law.”

I assume that all members of this group are aware of and operating within these international authorized rules. Failure to do so will mean immediate and humiliating expulsion from the community and confiscation of all art supplies.

Thanks for your continuing cooperation. These rules are made for the enjoyment of all.

Your favorite art authority,

Bill's conundrum

From a recent email exchange with Bill, a reader:

Hey Danny:

I have a real conundrum.
After a few years pursuing other dreams (but still keeping my artistic feet wet). I ramped back up my freelance illustration pursuits. With my website up and loaded with samples I began sending out my promotional material. It has been a year now and I have received only a few nibbles. That being said my portrait business has really picked up.

Here is my dilemma. To me. portraits have always felt like an artistic parlor trick. Sure I can render a portrait to look like your photo but why the heck do you want me to you already own the picture. I just feel like if I let the portrait business take over I will lose my illustration goals.

My problem is I owe it to my wife and son to make more money. I know it sounds odd but my illustrations make me feel like an artist and my portraits make me feel like a whore. What should I do?


Dear Bill:

I think your issue is less about practicality and more about how you define yourself. The reality is that there are illustrators who feel like whores because they are working for big corporations and making art that will be trashed at the end of the month and wish they could do work for people who would cherish and frame their art.

Not to be harsh, but I urge you to get over your self and focus instead on being as productive as you can. It doesn’t mater if you’re an artist or an illustrator or a hack or a genius. Just take it day-by-day, make art for those who want it and keep moving. While your drawing someone’s portrait, see if you can leverage the connection and make more business for yourself. Then think of who else you can send promotional stuff to.

And think about the promotion stuff you send out. Is it really special? Is it something an art director will just toss in a drawer? Are you giving them something that’s of value and memorable? And are you …

getting back to them to remind them who you are? Is your illustration outstanding in some way? Are you targeting the right people? You seem to work mainly in pen and ink. Have you targeted newspapers? Can you get a regular gig in a local paper? Does your website showcase your work as well as possible? Did you just put it up and figure it would have to do? Do your refresh it? It seems to me that it’s a little passive and asks the visitor to do the work with tiny thumbnails. It also keeps reminding me that your work is for sale. Woo me a little first before waving the’ for sale’ sign.

You are a creative guy. Apply that creativity to leveraging every possible aspect of what you do. Forget about your own label (artists, illustrator, diaper changer, whatever) and do all you can to make other people yearn to work with you. Maybe you should do cartoons, Christmas cards, a children’s book, and give them out free to prospects.

You have a lot going for you. Don’t limit it in any way. Embrace opportunities and keep making stuff.

Hope I haven’t kicked your ass too hard but I know you can do it. I look forward to hearing how it works out.

Your pal,

Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate the kick in the ass…. As for my portraits, I guess I treat myself harshly in this area. My first paid illustration was a portrait and they come kinda easy to me. They just never seemed valid from a personal artistic standpoint. My portraits are oil painted or pencil and my illustrations are pen and ink. For some reason I have always felt more valid doing the pen and ink work. It’s a strange battle that I have been dealing with since high school (I am 38 now). I guess I get hung up on the fact that most people have preconceived notions of what a portrait should be. If people were willing to accept a more creative portrait like the ones you have been doing I would feel more fulfilled. I have been watching how after you went through your creative rough patch this summer you came back with both guns blazing. If I could somehow marry my two styles to a point where both of my needs were met I would feel better. …


Dear Bill:

Portraits are endlessly fascinating. These days I am looking at lots of them and drawing inspiration from : David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon. Vincent van Gogh…

I think they refute your idea that portraits are not artistically valid or that there’s any preconceived idea of what a portrait should be. If you shake your own preconception, you will grow as an artist and as a success.

And forget trying to marry styles. Try something a lot less conscious and experiment with new media and approaches. It will put fresh excitement into your work that potential customers will respond to. Or else fuck ‘em.


Fear is not very useful.

Hey Danny,
I have loved your stuff since finding your site. I need some counsel from a fellow habitual doodler. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to do stuff with art. I even got my bachelors in fine art education, thinking I would teach. But, fearing financial failure with a new family, I went into another field, and find myself making a good living, but longing to eliminate the “what if” from my lists of regrets. Some days I wish I could just be forced to go deep into the creative side again, but I fear failure.
Any counsel and suggestions?

Dear Witness:
Fear is not very useful. Instead, I urge you to just start doing whatever it is you are interested in being involved with. Don’t concentrate on the $$$ aspect of things. Start making, then start sharing.
Get involved with the arts community in your area if you want to show in galleries. Contact magazines and papers if you want to illustrate. Just take the leap and avoid wrapping the whole thing up with your identity and sense of self worth.
Be as positive and outgoing and productive as possible. And consider the expansion of your creativity to be a creative effort in and of itself. Be creative in how you make art, in who you show it to, in how you support yourself emotionally as you head in this new direction.
If you approach it this way, it is impossible to fail, for even if you don’t accomplish what you initially thought you’d achieve, you will have a fine adventure, learn new things and, worse case scenario, get that creative urge out of your system once and for all.
Have fun, be brave, get going,
Your pal,

Street Folks

People walking down the street are one of the more challenging subjects for me draw. They are always changing shape and size or just disappearing before I can study them long enough to get down on paper. As I’d rather not end up with every single one of my cityscapes looking like someone just dropped a neutron bomb and depopulated the place, I try to practice a technique for capturing people in motion. It has to be atechnique rather than an actual observation, of course, and so I have to work out shorthand and special practices to get the job done.

When I draw a person, say, waiting for the light to change and standing still for a moment, I can usually capture about half of their pose. Then I watch another person in a similar position and finish up a composite of both of them in one figure. I figured this approach out at the zoo in Milwaukee ( sorry, the the Como and Minnesota Zoos in Minneapolis!) a couple of years ago, when drawing animals with my pal Roz. Many animals would assume three or four different positions but then go back and forth between them so I just did several drawings simultaneously on the page, moving back and forth between the poses.
I did these particular drawings one evening while waiting for Patti to meet me on the street corner. It was fairly hectic and there was a lot of coming and going so I found it quite hard to really lock into to the exercise. I imagine that if I had the patience to take more life drawing classes and concentrated on short poses, I’d be well served.
I learned quite a lot drawing stuffed animal specimens at home and at various natural history museums. Maybe I should visit Madam Tusaud’s. It’s just so hard to find decent human taxidermy.

How to draw

To learn just about any task, we start by breaking it into its smallest component parts. That’s how a computer works, breaking every operation into millions of unambiguous instructions which are then executed sequentially at the speed of light. Cooking a complex French dish becomes possible, even easy, if you have a clear recipe which breaks the preparation down into a long series of clear parts. Even playing a Beethoven symphony is technically a matter of reading the notes from overture to finale.
Drawing works the same way.
Most anything you’d want to draw is made up of straight lines and curves. You can almost certainly draw a short, reasonably straight line. And with a little care you can probably draw an arc or a fairly round circle. Improving your ability to do either of these things is primarily a function of how slowly you you do them. And practice will make you better.
But you’re probably no more interested in drawing lines and arcs than you are in learning to boil water or to play a single note on the piano. It’s assembling the individual components that makes the idea of drawing satisfying and challenging. But that’s all it is, a challenge, not an impossibility, no matter who you are.
Drawing is about observation, about dismantling whatever you are looking at into the lines and curves that make it up. So let’s start with somethings simple, say a pencil or a coffee mug. Examine it for a minute or two. Let your eye follow the outer edges of the object and really think about what you are seeing. Ask yourself questions. How long is a particular stretch of edge? What happens when it encounters another edge? What sort of angle do lines make when they meet? Are the lines on one side parallel to those on the other? Keep scrutinizing and studying, like a detective grilling the subject so you can get at the truth. The truth is right in front of you and yet it is elusive. Why? You are not used to seeing clearly because you are bogged down with preconceptions. You want to overcome those preconceptions about what a pencil looks like by forgetting that it is a pencil. Instead you want to see it just as as line and curves and angles.
If you are having trouble, stop looking at the object from two perspectives at once, with your right eye and your left. Close one eye and now you will be committed to a single perspective. Just as your pen does on paper, you will now be dealing only with a 2-D world. Drawing that pencil is just a matter or recording your observations on paper, copying the length of one line, then adding on the curve, noting down an angle. Try it. Run your eye down the edge, then run your pen down the paper. Slowly, slowly. Then connect the next edge, checking your angle. The slower you go, the more you’ll know. Work your way around the whole object, checking parallel lines, seeing where things meet up. It’s just like measuring a window for drapes or flour for cookies. Slowly, slowly. Measure twice, cut once, as the carpenters say.
If you screwed up somewhere, just correct yourself. Don’t erase or freak out, just redraw the lines, training your brain, your eye, your hand.
Take a break, pat yourself on the back.
Soon, do it again. And again. Then when you’re ready, add another object and draw them together, thinking about the relationship between the two. Lay your pencil near your mug. Look at the shapes that are defined by their edges. Think about the negative space they form (that’s the chunk of table that lies between them). Get into the habit of looking for negative space. Look at a tree’s branches. The sky you see between the branches is negative space. So is the carpet or wall you see between chair legs. Observe it. Draw it.
Devote half an hour a day to this sort of observation and recording and, within a week, you will begin to amaze yourself.
The next step is just to add more complexity. Find more complicated objects or scenes to draw. Set up a still life of common objects. get intricate. Draw the seeds on top of a bagel or the hairs on your dog’s face. Sure there are a lot of them but tackle them one by one. Draw a detail then move over to the next one and record it. Keep going and then step back and see the forest after drawing the trees (A word of caution: challenge yourself but don’t raise the bar so high that you start to feel like a failure).
Once you are rolling, make drawing an everyday thing. Record the world around you. Draw your breakfast, your cat, your spouse’s shoes, your child’s toys. Join our Yahoo! group and try out some of Karen Winter’s challenges.
Your inner critic may well balk at all this. First off, how could it be that easy? Well, it is. Now that you know the elements (careful observation, recording lines, angles and curves) and are willing to practice them for a little while, you will soon be able to draw anything on earth. Sure, it will take more time to make and record accurate observations quickly but it’s not beyond reach. I’m not a bird describing to you how to fly; you have all the necessary equipment and abilities already. You simply need to focus, slow down, and persevere. The biggest step is shedding the preconception that you can’t do it.
Second objection: is it art? I have no idea. At first, it will be hard to put a lot of style or expression in your drawing but, trust me, every line you draw, right from the get go, is pureyou. Soon you will have enough control to lead your work in any direction you choose. Think of this as a golf lesson. I am teaching you to hit the ball. It’s up to you to keep working and lower your score. You probably won’t wind up being Tiger Woods … but so what? You’ll still have loads of fun.
Want to know more? Read a good book.

Nice email

I am a 43 year-old Special Ed. teacher in IN. I have always been an art fanatic and took many lessons way back in my teen years. Since then I have just “dabbled”. I had to take a “leave” from my job in Feb. and have researching altered books/artists sketchbooks/drawing and came upon your book. It is

incredible. I am reading and rereading it every day! I love everything about it! I have borrowed it from the library and will buy at least one copy as soon as I can afford it. I HAVE to have it! I have always wanted to be an artist and during the past few months have done more art than I ever imagined I could. It is wonderfully theraputic and cathartic! You have truely inspired me beyond words. Your book is my “bible”. Since you started in your 30’s I am hoping that it is not too late for me since I am in my 40’s. I want to draw, write and make stuff 24 hours a day (I sleep very little). I just wanted you to know what a wonderful thing you have done in sharing your journey with all of us “aspiring artists”. Please keep it coming, I just can’t get enough and now I’ve found your website and love to see the work from so many talented people. Thanks for all that you have done for me, my life has been changed forever.
With warmest regards,

I do it 'cause it's trendy.

Recently, I was asked why I thought journaling, and Internet journaling in particular, has become such a phenomenon. I rattled off a bunch of bullet points but I’ve continued to think about my answer and thought I’d share my thoughts with you to see if you want to refute or amplify my hypotheses.
First, there’re the tools at hand. The Internet and blogging let us share our personal work with like-minded people more easily. In the past, one might keep a diary that some descendant could unearth in the attic after we’ve passed, but the practice was basically solipsistic. In the new millennium, while our stories and drawings may not find an audience in our homes or communities, the Web lets us find interested readers from Belgium to Brisbane. The fact that someone else is interested helps to keep us going.
But technology also helps to create the need. I think that all this technology and titanium has made handmade things much more appealing. Even if it ends up as a jpeg, putting ink, graphite, and good old watercolors down on paper is a warm and pleasant break from email and cel phoning.
The next factor is our zeitgeist. We live in the age of memoir and confession. Anything goes and everyone’s an audience. Reality TV, James Frey, Augusten Burroughs, Oprah, Bill Clinton, everyone is sharing their story whether anyone asked or not. You don’t need to be a celebrity or a world leader to be worth listening to any more; now, if you get a publishing contract your personal life is, well, an open book. It follows that we all have a heightened need for self-analysis and -exposure.
Our culture has also become increasingly about individual achievement: the star athlete, the maverick CEO, the non-aligned President, etc. Despite a brief window of collective focus after 9/11, ‘s not about community any more; instead ‘s about self-absorption.
Most if us have the leisure time for journaling. Oh sure there’re a zillion diversions and distractions but if we want to make the time, we can have it. Turn off the tube, the Crackberry, the RSS feed, and do a bit of self-analysis.
And more and more of us have that need because of a growing sense of our own mortality. Baby boomers are the largest group in the population and we are in mid-life. Beginning to sum up, to think about what we’ve learned from life, and interested in sharing what we find.
Another aspect of modern life is reflected in the last essay I wrote here, about the effects of globalization on our environment. The more homogeneity there is, the more we seek quirk and particularity in others and ourselves. If everyone’s wearing clothes from the same stores and eating food from the same restaurants, we have all the more need to make our own mark, to stand out from the crowd.
While the world imposes consistency on us through megabranding, it is also providing us with a lot of tumult and anxiety. We are looking for answers and perspective and sitting down with a blank piece of paper and a pen is a great way to start looking.
It also seems that organized religion hasn’t managed to give us a strong enough sense of meaning in the modern world. I don’t feel that the Pope or the mullahs or the Christian Right are providing any answers I can relate to; instead it seems ‘s up to me to get to the bottom of things and chart a path for passing through these troubled waters. Again, slowing down and meditating on the moment with a pen in my hand brings me peace and balance.
Why have you started journaling? And what role does drawing play in it?